QB: It seems fitting that my last installment featured the New York Giants, because Joe Flacco is basically the AFC version of Eli Manning. Both are Super Bowl champions, yet both are not terribly desirable as fantasy starters: they typically put up good, but not great numbers.
Flacco signed a whopping six year, $120 million deal last year and he responded by throwing more INTs (22) than touchdowns (19) and failed break the 4,000 yards passing barrier (actually, he's never broke 4,000 in his career).
That may change this season with the addition of new/healthy offensive weapons, but not enough to sway my gut feeling about him. I've always maintained that Flacco is an average quarterback; he's not great, but he doesn't stink, either. And the stats he's posted his first six years in the league back that up.
Like Eli Manning, he's an ideal fantasy back-up who can serve as a starter, but he's not among my first dozen choices.
RB: Some times a running back's career dies a prolonged death. Some times their career drops dead in its tracks.
Ray Rice's actions over the offseason indicate he is attempting the latter.
His star has plummeted like an anvil being pushed of a cliff in one of those Road Runner cartoons, although I'm not ready to pronounce his career D.O.A. yet.
Between 2009 and 2012, Rice was a dominant factor in fantasy football. He ran well, he caught the ball well, and he was a fantasy point machine.
Then last season the wheels fell off. He was plagued by injury and couldn't muster 1,000 yards from scrimmage. But that was just the start. In the offseason when he was caught by surveillance cameras knocking his bitch out cold in Atlantic City.
Guess he showed her.
Even though his wife apologized for getting in the way of his fist, the rumor mill says Rice will face a four to six game suspension. If that happens, and if he's available in the middle rounds, I'd draft him and wait it out. There is still gas in the tank, and he will have something to prove when he returns.
If a suspension comes, Bernard Pierce will take the reigns at least for the first part of the season. Pierce has seen limited duty in his first two seasons, and last year had a very unimpressive 2.9 yards-per-carry average (152 rushing attempts).
Pierce will be given his chance to shine and he will also have something to prove, but he's not shown a whole of yee-haw in his giddy-up. He's a mid-third tier back if Rice is suspended. Otherwise, he's fourth tier stuff.
WR: Torrey Smith took the next big step that many were anticipating last season. He was targeted an impressive 137 times and broke 1,000 yards receiving for the first time in his career. He did, however, disappoint by hauling in just half his touchdown total in 2013 as compared to 2012.
Still, he made strides in the right direction and he now has a savvy veteran on the field with him, taking a lot of the pressure away as the go-to guy. Smith is a upper-level second tier receiver this season; it wouldn't take much to upgrade to top tier.
Steve Smith is the aforementioned savvy veteran. It will be surreal to see Smith in anything but a Panther jersey, but stranger things have happened in recent memory.
He is entering his 14th NFL campaign and is certainly past his prime, but he will still get plenty of attention from defensive backs. Smith had a not-too-shabby 64 receptions last season and he's still got speed. I'll rank the old man in the third tier, but he will see his share of touches and is a handy flex option.
TE: Dennis Pitta is one of those special tight ends that sees 100+ targets a season (101 to be exact, in 2012). He missed almost all of 2013 due to a hip injury, and many fantasy owners will look elsewhere for their starting tight end. Don't be that guy (or gal).
Pitta proved in 2012 that he makes things happen when the ball gets in his hands, and Flacco loves to throw to him. He's a top tier tight end and could very well put up top five numbers. Draft him.